015: Ben Greenfield, Coach Al, and Dr. Strecker Take On Minimalist Running Shoes (Podcast)

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Hi Everyone! 

Here’s a simple but often overlooked fact:

Ben Greenfield, Pursuit Athletic Performance Podcast

Triathlon Coach Ben Greenfield

Each one of us is unique.

We each have a unique history and lifestyle. As runners, we all have unique foot mechanics, unique training and racing histories, and unique running goals for the future.
Why is it then that so many experts in the running world say there’s one approach, or one shoe, that is good for EVERY single person?

That’s just not true.

What is true? Try these two statements:

1. There is NO SINGLE running shoe or approach to running that is perfect for EVERY SINGLE runner on the planet.

2. There IS appropriate foot wear for every single runner on the planet.

When I am scouring the research, or reading a book, or checking out an online journal and find that a professional in the field states that every single person should do “this” or do “that,” it instantly raises a red flag.

For me, given my passion about and on the topic of running, red flags fly frequently regarding pat, undiscriminating recommendations about running shoes.

Use this shoe…or go without shoes…

My problem with this advice comes in when the experts promote the idea that what is good for some runners is good for ALL. At Pursuit Athletic Performance, our mission is to make sure runners get the straight scoop on what is ultimately going to be best for them, as individuals. If you want to say it is my agenda to try and set the record straight on what I believe are MYTHS, then so be it, I accept that freely.

Fast forward…

On September 15th, I read a blog post written by well-known and highly-respected triathlon coach, Ben Greenfield. You can find Ben Greenfield Fitness here. I know Ben, having met him at a USA Triathlon Coaching Conference in Colorado Springs some years ago, and again at the Ironman World Championships in Kona last year. I have a great deal of respect for Ben, and know he speaks to a vast audience.

I was really taken aback, however, when I read the opening sentence to his blog post "Barefoot Running Is Healthy, Ancestral And Good For Your Feet – But Is There Such A Thing As Minimalist Cycling Shoes?" The sentence reads:

As you may have heard, there are a ton of benefits you get when you switch to minimalist running shoes or go barefoot……instead of constantly making your feet weak by protecting them with a bubble of built-up, fancy footwear. But is there a natural, ancestral way of treating your feet when you're riding a bike? Or are cyclists and triathletes doomed?

My first reaction to this statement was quick and simple: He’s flat out wrong here.

Ben then goes on to recommend the potential benefits of a custom made cycling shoe made by a company called Rocket 7. I see that as a contradiction. Isn’t having a bike shoe custom made really having a version of an “orthotic” made for your feet? Yes, in fact, it is.

To me, custom shoes are a far cry from “minimalist cycling.” and it presents a contradiction. On the one hand, Ben is promoting that it is better to go “natural” for running (and cycling as well based upon the title of the post). Yet, he recommends the potential benefits of what, in essence, is a custom made foot-bed for a shoe that is ATTACHED to the bike pedal.

In my opinion, there is nothing remotely “minimalist” about being clipped into a bike pedal with high-end bike shoes, let alone taking it one step further and using a custom made foot bed.

I decided to reply to the post.

In my response, I told Ben that while I enjoy his blog, and very often learn some new things while reading, this comment: “there are a ton of benefits you get when you switch to minimalist running shoes,” was in my opinion, wrong.

He replied a bit shocked at my candor, and said: “that was blunt! What part was wrong would you say?”
I took the opportunity to open a discussion, and you can read my extensive and somewhat technical reply here. To Ben’s credit he was interested in what I had to say (no surprise really -- he has a very open mind). Since we seemed to have a disagreement on what I feel is a very important topic, I asked Ben if he would like to join me in a podcast to discuss the issue in more depth for the benefit of our listeners. Let’s talk about it, put our perspective out there for all to hear, and let the listeners make up their own minds about what they believe.

I really appreciate Ben’s willingness to come onto our podcast to discuss this important topic. In truth, we were not very far apart at all. In the end, I believe that is a good thing.

Thank you, Ben, for sharing your time. This information will certainly help de-mystify the topic and provide a solid foundation for a better understanding of the unique nature of our feet and the shoes we decide to put on them.

Coach Al

NOTE-- If you are interested in reading the full text of my reply to Ben’s blog post, you can find it here. It’s quite technical, but very thorough for those of you who would like to go deeper into the issue of minimalist shoes. Thanks to my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker, for contributing some important information in the response.

We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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